Following an emotional victory Saturday at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a newly confident Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) is still holding out on his dream of winning one of the major cobblestoned classics.
The veteran Spanish classics specialists finally won a Belgian one-day race and did it with panache, riding away from an elite field with 20k to go to win the classics season opener in dramatic fashion.
“My dream remains to win either Flanders or Roubaix, but Het Volk (Nieuwsblad) is a Tour of Flanders in miniature and that just heightens expectations,” Flecha told the Spanish sports daily MARCA. “What gives me the most pride is to finally been able to have won on the cobblestones.”
The victory was a big boost to start-up Team Sky, which comes into the season with cycling’s biggest budget and expectations to match.
The squad has a solid classics unit and Flecha will be playing a starring role after moving to the British team after several years racing with Rabobank.
“I knew that the form was good and that the team confided in me, but I would be lying if I thought at the start line I was going to win, even though I knew I could be at the front,” Flecha continued. “In fact, during the team meeting, they asked what I thought the ideal situation would be. I responded that I didn’t know, that I preferred to improvise. And it was like that. I played by cards as it unfolded, without having a set plan.”
Flecha’s win is the first by a Spanish rider on a cobblestoned one-day race and his first since 2005. A winner of the GP Zurich and the Giro del Lazio in 2004, the 32-year-old Flecha is well-known for his dramatic finish line salvo of shooting an imaginary arrow across the finish line, which he revealed to the world with his Tour de France stage victory in Toulouse in 2003.
“I am not a new Flecha, I am the same as always, even though I admit that this victory gives me a lot of confidence because it’s been a long time since I won anything,” he said. “I don’t have the same energy I did when I was 25, but I have a lot more experience. Also, I am on a team that really believes in my possibilities and my instinct.”
Flecha has done well in the northern classics, finishing twice on the podium at Paris-Roubaix (3rd in 2005, 2nd in 2007) and once on the podium at Tour of Flanders (3rd in 2008).
“I don’t want to dwell on my victory Saturday. I don’t want to relax or live in the clouds,” he said. “That’s already won and now it’s time to focus on my next objectives.”
Flecha will be busy in the coming weeks as the heart of the classics season approaches. On Saturday is the Monte Paschi-Strade Bianche, followed by Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo in Italy. From there, it’s off to Belgium for the A Travérs de Flanders, Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem and, finally, Flanders and Roubaix.